Got a trip coming up? For sure, you would want to document your experiences, as well as your whole journey in the best way possible by shooting photos for as much as you could! After all, photos will last a lifetime, both for purposes of keeping and sharing. Now when it comes to the kind of camera that you’ll be taking for your vacation, a DSLR would certainly offer you the best image quality — however, unless you’re a professional who needs it for work or whatnot, a smartphone is still your best bet for travel.
Why? It’s light, it’s compact, and it’s practical!
And though it might not offer the exact output that a DSLR can offer, a lot of the smartphones today have high camera specs that can practically mimic its quality. I’m sure you will agree with me when I say that it definitely beats bringing along a heavy DSLR camera that can just end up as added bulk and weight on your luggage or carry-on (especially if you’re one of those people who would most likely use ‘auto’ settings for most of the time).
I own an iPhone 7 and I can assure you that with the right settings, knowledge, and creativity, you can take beautiful shots with just your smartphone and make the most of your trip documentation!
With that said and done, let me help you out and give you some helpful tips below to help maximize your travel photos with just the use of your handy smartphone.
5 Tips for Taking Better Travel Photos with Your Smartphone
Know more about your destination and get some inspiration to get creative.
Wanna know why some Instagrammers just seem to take the most phenomenal photographs at all times…? Other than innate creativity and talent, what usually helps them to frame their shots so well is the research process that they do beforehand.
This means that it really helps for you to read through articles and guides both offline and online in order to know the best spots, attractions, as well as interesting architectures and landscapes that you can shoot during the duration of your stay.
It also helps to know the weather, the local culture, and all the other basic stuff that is unique to your destination. For example, if you check the weather in advance, you will then know the best days or times to shoot (which could be helpful for sunrise or sunset shots). And when it comes to culture, it’s beneficial to know the specifics because you can then learn any existing restrictions when it comes to taking photos on certain locations, or even the sensitivities to wearing certain clothing to some places etc.
TIP: Most of the time, shooting during golden hours or magic hours is best. This is the period shortly after sunrise or before sunset in which the light is redder and softer compared to when the sun is higher in the sky.
One other thing you can do for research is to derive inspiration and ideas from existing photos! So head on to Google, Pinterest, or Instagram to see what people usually do when it comes to shooting landscapes, cityscapes, portraits, poses, and more.
Try to also refrain from having just one position or style to your photos — experiment and think out of the box. Get photos not only of yourself but of locals, busy streets, small alleyways… the list can go on and on.
Take note of the full functionalities of your smartphone camera, and then ‘prep’.
With today’s constant tech developments, some smartphone cameras have special features that are unique to their brand or series. That being said, you must ensure to read about all the capabilities that your smartphone has in order to make the most out of it!
For example, iPhone 7 Plus has a special ‘portrait mode’ which gives off a really good macro or bokeh depth effect that is akin to the effect that DSLR prime lenses can give. Huawei phones have Leica-brand cameras that give off an interesting vibe on its shots.
Therefore, make the effort to learn how to take panoramas as a start, and if your iPhone or Android has a manual mode, play through with it in advance in order to see how its HDR, focus, shutter, etc. can be tweaked properly.
As for when I said ‘prep’, I am actually referring to things like battery life, space, and connectivity. It’s no news that with constant use, smartphone batteries can die very quickly; that’s why you should make sure that you have a power bank on hand. For storage space, check that you have enough capacity or that you have learned the proper way of transferring your photos to your laptop or hard drive in order to free up some space from time to time.
Meanwhile, if you’re more of a person who wants to upload photos or do Instagram stories or snaps in real time, make sure that you get a pocket wifi beforehand too! (TIP: Use code “IAMAILEEN” to save 15% off when renting a Tep Wireless pocket wifi.)
Make full use of awesome smartphone accessories.
Your smartphone is clearly a ‘shooting powerhouse’ in itself, but with the right accessories, it can go beyond its capabilities in order to make your shooting process better and faster.
At the moment, I am absolutely IN LOVE with the following items from Pixter:
- Flexible Tripod: As you might already know, owning a tripod is useful for doing night shots and timelapses among many other things. Hence, owning a tripod for your phone will help you on your travel photography — but unlike typical tripods, this Flexible Tripod can ‘attach’, ‘grip’, or ‘wrap’ to any support or surface! So if you’re out in the woods with no surface that’s on eye level, you can just wrap this Flexible Tripod around a nearby tree and you’re good to shoot.
NOTE: Compatible with all smartphone sizes.
- Bluetooth Remote Control: With this little thing, you can finally take photos and videos WITHOUT touching your phone. So if you’re someone who does Instagram or Snapchat stories, you wouldn’t need another person’s help for pushing the buttons on boomerangs, photos, or videos because this remote can do it ALL for you! Without a doubt, this is a valuable contraption for group and solo shots. Aaah… I am just so crazy about this as a solo traveler because it can save me so much time (I no longer need to run back and forth to my camera just to set the timer again, and again — and again!). Of course, coming up to people and asking them to take my photo is an option but it’s often a hassle; it’s not like every person out there can also frame the shot the way that I want it and I’d also be shy to ask for too many retakes.
NOTE: Works for all smartphones that have Bluetooth connectivity. Trigger is functional within 15 meters.
- Wide Angle Pro Lens: When it comes to travel, I typically use a wide lens on my DSLR (since it’s perfect for taking landscapes and restricted indoor shots [such as hotel rooms, etc.] for my blogging work) so this nifty clip-on wide angle lens for my iPhone is such a helpful accessory! Not only does it have advanced optical design with no significant distortion, but it is also made of high quality materials for great and smooth clamping on your smartphone. Now, that doesn’t stop there because they have other available lenses too for your fancy: fisheye, super fisheye, polarizer, telephoto, and macro!
NOTE: Works for all smartphones, both for back and front cameras.
COMPARISON: With and Without Wide Angle Lens
The best part? You can get these 3 items in one great Travel Pack that costs only $69.90!
BONUS: This is a post about taking better travel photos; but how about travel videos? Your smartphone can already be a decent video taker! However, I do know that they don’t have the most optimal image stabilization features. To fix this, a gimbal is important! For suchh, I would recommend DJI’s Osmo Mobile which will make your video stable and your clips cinematic. To see my detailed review on this, see here.
Learn other typical photography tips and tricks.
There are TONS of tips and tricks out there, but the following would be the top 3 things that you should remember…
- Try to follow the ‘Rule of Thirds’: A lot of smartphones have this functionality on the camera and it looks like a grid with intersecting lines of 2 vertical and horizontal lines (as shown above). This rule basically says that you should align and divide your shot in 3 equal parts and that the subject should be placed on one of the intersections or lines for better photo composition.
- Take note of of proper lighting: Apart from the ‘golden hours’ tip that I shared previously, some other things that you should remember when it comes to lighting is the direction of the sunlight. For sure, you should never take shots wherein you’re directly facing the sun because that will overexpose your photos or produce silhouettes (unless this is what you aim to do for your shot). If you’re taking portrait photos for instance, it’s best that the sun is behind you so that it hits the face of your subject. However, you can experiment with the positioning of your subject because the light can still be harsh (example: use a shade, etc.).
- Use a photo-editing program: A lot of those Instagrammers that you look up to do post-processing via photo-editing programs and some of the smartphone apps that they use are: VSCO, Lightroom, or Snapseed. With these applications, you have more flexibility and control over your photos’ brightness, contrast, colors, shadows, highlights, sharpness and more! (Still and the same, make sure that you don’t ‘over-edit’, or your image might end up looking too fake.)
Keep clicking away!
One of the tips that have been given to me by professional photographers is to simply keep clicking. It’s a very helpful advise because through that way you’ll have more material to choose from. So… take as many photos as you can!
If in doubt, just take it — you can always delete it later on. Besides, it’s better to have tons of images than to regret not taking as much. Remember: there’s no such thing as too many pictures!
TIP: Use burst mode whenever you’re shooting busy scenes or moving objects. Through this way, you can capture all the movement there is and delete the ones that are not as good.
It should be apparent by now that you can absolutely take great travel photos even with just the use of your smartphone.
There’s really no need for you to spend so much money on DSLRs nor pack too much heavy gear because your small and nifty smartphone can easily become your best trip companion for documenting ALL of your travel memories!
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Hey there! I am Aileen Adalid.
At 21, I quit my corporate job in the Philippines to pursue my dreams. Today, I am a successful digital nomad (entrepreneur, travel writer, & vlogger) living a sustainable travel lifestyle.
My mission? To show you how it is absolutely possible to create a life of travel too (no matter the odds), and I will help you achieve that through my detailed travel guides, adventures, resources, tips, and MORE!
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